Sedra: Vaetchanan
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Sedra: Vaetchanan

Sedra-of-the-week-300x208by Rabbi Yoni birnbaum

Gillian Lynne was the choreographer behind Cats and Phantom Of The Opera, two of the best-known shows of all time.

Later in life, she was asked how she had become so successful at drama and dance. She replied that when she was at school in the 1930s, her teachers thought that she was developmentally delayed because she could never stop fidgeting and found it very hard to concentrate.

Eventually, her mother took her to a specialist. The doctor listened to Gillian and her mother for 20 minutes, and then told Gillian that he would like to speak to her mother privately.

But as they went out of the room he turned on the radio on his desk, which started playing music. The minute they left the room, Gillian was on her feet, moving to the music.

After the doctor and her mother had watched her for a few minutes, he turned to her mother and said: “Mrs Lynne – there’s nothing wrong with your daughter. She’s a dancer, take her to dance school!”

Eventually, she met Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and became responsible for choreographing some of the greatest musicals in the history of theatre. A careful look at the Ten Commandments, recorded for a second time in this week’s Sedra, reveals a highly significant use of language.

Despite the fact that the Torah was given collectively to the Jewish people as a whole, the singular rather than the plural form is used throughout the Ten Commandments themselves.

The unmistakeable message in this use of language is that every individual is special in their own right. God speaks to each and every one of us directly, rather than as a monolithic group.

Unless we can also recognise, as the wise doctor did in the case of Gillian Lynne, that every individual must be considered in their own merit, and allowed to maximise their own skills, talents and capabilities in life, we will always fall short. With this, perhaps we can also gain a new insight into the final Commandment – ‘Lo tachmod’ (‘Do not covet’).

The Torah instructs us not to look over our shoulder at what others have and what others do. Instead, it is our task to always look inwards. To believe in ourselves and our own capacity for greatness using the gifts we have been given in life. This aspect of the Ten Commandments thus contains a subtle but fundamental message for the rest of the Torah and indeed for life itself. In order to believe in God, first we have to believe in ourselves.

• Yoni Birnbaum is the rabbi of the Hadley Wood Jewish Community

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